Developmental cognitive neuroscience of arithmetic: implications for learning and education

ZDM. 2010 Oct;42(6):515-525. doi: 10.1007/s11858-010-0242-0.


In this article, we review the brain and cognitive processes underlying the development of arithmetic skills. This review focuses primarily on the development of arithmetic skills in children, but it also summarizes relevant findings from adults for which a larger body of research currently exists. We integrate relevant findings and theories from experimental psychology and cognitive neuroscience. We describe the functional neuroanatomy of cognitive processes that influence and facilitate arithmetic skill development, including calculation, retrieval, strategy use, decision making, as well as working memory and attention. Building on recent findings from functional brain imaging studies, we describe the role of distributed brain regions in the development of mathematical skills. We highlight neurodevelopmental models that go beyond the parietal cortex role in basic number processing, in favor of multiple neural systems and pathways involved in mathematical information processing. From this viewpoint, we outline areas for future study that may help to bridge the gap between the cognitive neuroscience of arithmetic skill development and educational practice.